Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not 'Every Child Counts' in a neoliberal world...

Every Child Counts, a report, commissioned by a coalition of child advocacy organisations was released today and shows that when comparing education, deprivation, suicide and infant mortality, Kiwi kids have some of the bleakest futures in the developed world, ranking a dismal 28th out of 30 for child outcomes – we just beat Mexico and Turkey.

Social Development Minister 'Basher' Bennett said that our ranking was a "real concern".


From Stuff:
She said the report backed government plans in early childcare, work testing for beneficiaries and asking parents on various benefits to work part-time.” 
They just cut funding to ECEC which forced many families out.

The report also found New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of spending on children at $3 billion, or 1.5% of GDP in 2010/11, and that it was not as well used as in other countries, especially when poor outcomes cost the country 3% of GDP, or $6b.
The report recommended government attention and funding be focused on the first 1000 days of a child's life, and warned that support for at-risk families tended to discourage people from working.”

Christ, were do we start? This is their baseline:
  • Children don't vote.
  • It's the parent's fault – they make “poor choices” to quote PM Key and should just get a job.
  • Quality schools and teachers will sort out any problems.
This is neoliberal ideology: Individual responsibility and minimal collective social support. If we ensure 'equality of access' then if you apply your self and make “better choices” then you to can be a global success. How sexy is that eh?

From here on I mainly draw on the brilliant Ivan Snook.

Firstly there's poverty:

Poverty is a by-product of the capitalist economic system whereby the exploitation of workers generates profit, thus inequality is an integral part of the economy and therefore society (Rata, 2009). The question must be asked: How do governments intend to lift child outcomes such as educational achievement if macro social and economic policies do not address the inherent inequality of capitalism?

Carpenter (2009) talks about how macro non-educational policies of neoliberalism are nullifying the best of educational intentions:

Policies such as market rents for state houses, the availability of adequate housing, transport costs, the minimum wage, and health costs all impact on the education system, they trump it, and they undoubtedly have a huge impact on children in low decile schools (Carpenter, 2009).

Snook claims that social factors such as those listed above are determining the educational achievement of a child before it is even born and that subsequent financial support has little effect as entrenched poverty affects birth weight, cognitive development, and IQ levels. Yet the Ministry of Education insists that “all students will achieve highly provided only that the teacher is sufficiently skilled to create an optimum learning environment” (Snook and O'Neill, 2010). Such confidence – and in the face of decades of research!

So while material deprivation is a primary factor in educational achievement, the paradox is that money alone cannot solve this deficit (Snook and O'Neill, 2010). Targeting resources to alleviate the effects of poverty through special benefits such as Working For Families and the school decile system have been problematic and critics query their overall effectiveness. Working for Families is not available to households supported by state benefits and the decile system has created a 'white flight' situation that has stigmatised poorer schools and entrenched community inequality by inadvertently advertising the socio-economic status of the school community (CPAG, 2011; Carpenter, 2011).

Rather than address entrenched social inequality (that's the whole fucking system), neoliberalism keeps throwing the money at the education system – well it's more like 'redirecting existing funds to target groups', so it's a pretty half-arsed attempt at the best of times. National Standards! Yeah!

Why school? Because it maintains the system that so benefits them.

Carpenter (2001) describes how rather than being the mythical social ladder, school prepares children for social class positions similar to their parents through a rigidly prescribed curriculum that rejects the cultural and social capital of children from low socio-economic groups.

'Cultural capital' refers to “language, meanings, thought and behavioural styles, values and dispositions” (Rata, 2009, p.112), which link a child to a particular socio-economic class. 'Social capital' refers to networks of influence and resources available to a child and his or her family. These variables can be seen as a lack of parental agency and social connections, working class sub-culture with its emphasis on present-time orientation, the absence of values and skills for learning and high achievement.

According to Social Reproduction Theory (Rata, 2009), education is the main site where material, cultural and social capital can be used to create more capital, thereby improving ones life-chances. By structuring the school system in such a way that learners from low socio-economic groups are 'othered' or marginalised, they are denied access to capital and the reproduction of class in ensured. A critical component in this reproduction is curriculum (Carpenter, 2009).

Curriculum is “... a social and political construct that changes over time in response to a wide range of factors and influences, not only those recognisably internal to the educational system, but also many that are external to that system” (McCulloch, 1992, cited in Carpenter, 2001).

Yep, global capitalism primarily.

So what's going to change. Nothing. Until the revolution of course.


Carpenter, V. M. (2001). Curriculum and the (re)production of education. In V. Carpenter, H.
Dixon, E. Rata, & C. Rawlinson (Eds.), Theory in practice for educators (pp. 109-135).
Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
Carpenter, V. M. (2009). Low decile schools and teacher professional development, published by Child Poverty Action Group.
Carpenter, V. (2011). Lecture: curriculum and urban (low decile) schooling. Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland.
Child Poverty Action Group. (2011). Retrieved from
Rata, E. (2009). Socio-economic class and Māori education. In E. Rata & R. Sullivan (Eds.), Introduction to the history of New Zealand education. (pp. 101-119). Auckland: Pearson.
Snook, I. & O'Neill, J. (2010). Social class and educational achievement: Beyond ideology. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies. 45(2).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I was repairing a plank at work not long ago and a boy comments that I'm a “good good man”. Hmmm. An innocent comment, but loaded with societal stereotypes. The notion of men in early childhood is a complex topic and one that I've yet to fully explore here at @ko. I can remember that it is an subject essentially ignored by academia and that despite numerous attempts at University to initiate formal or informal discussion about this topic, I got no further than a curious “is that a bloke talking at the back?”

Gender.... men.... sigh. Well I've looked into a few books, tracked down a couple of articles, and found some reflective work I'd written myself, so I might do a wee series on men in early childhood – or maybe it will be more of a literature review... we'll see how it all develops.

Anyway first up is a piece of reflection I wrote a while back. Critical reflection is a key component to my pedagogical development (thank you UoA for drumming that into me) and is often a catalyst for writings found here :)
A male in ECEC generates all sorts of preconceived ideas: I'm a novelty, a 'bloke', a marketing dream, a role model, not a real man, obviously a paedophile...

With less than 2% of the early childhood workforce being men it is understandable that there is a lot of debate about why men are not involved and how to increase their numbers.

MacNaughton & Newman (1996) detail a number of reasons why men should become involved and top this list with “boys need more role models in early childhood services” (p. 147). However, they claim that much of the research and debate that supports this call is too simplistic as they fail to consider early childhood in a broader social context and “carry with them assumptions about male power and about how we see gender as opposites” (p.147).

Although not the driving reason for my choice of employment, I do see myself as role model - yet had never explicitly looked at what I was modelling.

MacNaughton & Newman claim that there is a problem in how we visualise the effects of male involvement and thus how we frame their practice. They breakdown the notion of male role models to look closer at two common, but opposites beliefs:

  • boys need to be inducted into masculinity, thus countering the feminisation of education
  • boys need to learn how to be non-sexist

Farquhar (1997) found in her study of New Zealand male teachers that many believed that “their role was to display traditional male characteristics” (cited in MacNaughton et al, p.148), a view that is representative of mythopoetic and men's rights arguments that claim boys need “a deep-level essential experience of masculinity to connect with, and that only men can help make this connection” (p.148).

Belk, a male New Zealand ECEC teacher, argues that “early childhood education is governed by the female perspective” (2008, p.40) and that they simply do not understand boys and how they play. While I support Belk's call for more 'rough and tumble' play, he has positioned himself as a vital ingredient as he brings the 'male perspective' which implicitly lays blame: “women's incapacity to help boys (connect with their masculinity) is seen to be at the heart of many of the problems faced by boys and men” (MacNaughton et al, 1996, p. 148).

Male teachers describe how they can incorporate 'masculine trades' and that they are “more physically active and boisterous, and more involved in outdoor play. I run around outside with the children and they like to play touch-rugby with me” (Farquhar et al, 2006, p. 20).

So do I.

I read somewhere how school principals often hire male teachers based on traditional stereotypes and this is apparently replicated in ECEC with MacNaughton & Newman arguing that in calling for more men, we are seeing a tendency to reinforce and to celebrate traditional, heterosexual masculinities. They see this as problematic for “teachers, girls and those boys who are trying to construct alternative ways of being male” (p. 149). They document how traditionally masculine boys routinely use sexist and masculine taunts, control larger amounts of space and have a “tendency to invade and disrupt the space being used by girls” (p. 149). They ask in whose interests does this role modelling serve? Are girls and women benefiting from the reproduction of the domination of men over women?

While I can see myself in parts of this picture, I do not personally or pedagogically align with this traditional masculinity. I can however see myself in the 'teaching boys to be non-sexist' camp which argues for men to counter traditional sex-role stereotypes. While a noble idea, unfortunately it is not supported by research on how children learn about gender.

In exploring this notion MacNaughton & Newman ask:

  • What agency does the child have to resist or reject dominant understandings?
  • How do they do this?
  • How does the child make choices between dominant and alternative understandings?
  • What influences the child to reject dominant or alternative understandings?

They conclude with: “if we cannot answer these questions, then anti-sexist men's involvement may be of little consequence in the longer term” (p.151).

Sobering news! Shit, I do not have answers to those questions.

MacNaughton & Newman cite Davis (1989) who argues that rather than men who are happy to hangout in the family corner or drawing table, ECEC needs people who will actively work to create
“imaginary worlds in which new metaphors, new forms of social relations, new patterns of power and desire are explored. Children need the freedom to position themselves in multiple ways, some of which will be recognisably 'feminine', some 'masculine' as we currently understand these terms” (p.151).

Can my 'feminine' qualities such as empathy, creativity, and enjoyment of young children blend with 'feminine' practice that is cooperative, non-competitive, and people-centred while kicking the soccer ball, pining for a carpentry project or other blokey pursuits? I hope so.

Questioning the role of men in ECEC is in all honesty like stepping into a world that seems undefined, fluid, and so full of possibility it's hard to know where to go next. Russell Ballantyne, a well-known and respected New Zealand ECEC teacher rises above the morass of division and debate with this:

“I have never ever approached the job of teaching as “being male”. My sense of maleness has been constructed for me by others. I see the differences in others’ eyes – and this is something that we often debate at our centre now” (Farquhar et al, 2006).

More talk. Fucken' A.


Belk, E. (2008). A male teacher's perspective on rough and tumble play. In The First Years: Ngā Tau Tuatahi. New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education. Volume 10, lssue 2.

Farquhar, S. & Cablk, L. & Buckingham, A. & Butler, D. & Ballantyne, R. Men at work:sexism in early childhood education. Childforum Research Network, Porirua.

MacNaughton, G. & Newman, B. (1996). Masculinities and men in early childhood: reconceptualising our theory and practice. In E. Dau (Ed.), The anti-bias approach in early childhood. Pearson Education, Australia.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wise Words...

I found these quotes in Peter Gray's blog Freedom to Learn (see blog roll) and they deserve to be spread far and wide. Also, I need a database of educational quotes for my writing so this may as well be the start. 

I will revisit this post to add more as I discover them. Enjoy!

  • Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
  • You can learn more about a person from an hour of play than a lifetime of conversation.
Mark Twain
  • I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
Oscar Wilde
  • The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence.
Bertrand Russell
  • Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.
  • Education is one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
Anne Sullivan 
  • I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.
Alice Duer Miller
  • It is among the commonplaces of education that we often first cut off the living root and then try to replace its natural functions by artificial means. Thus we suppress the child's curiosity and then when he lacks a natural interest in learning he is offered special coaching for his scholastic difficulties.
Emma Goldman
  • Since every effort in our educational life seems to be directed toward making of the child a being foreign to itself, it must of necessity produce individuals foreign to one another, and in everlasting antagonism with each other.
Ivan Illich
  • The public school has become the established church of secular society.
  • Together we have come to realize that the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school.
  • School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.
John Holt
  • Organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them.That is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false. 
  • Any child who can spend an hour or two a day, or more if he wants, with adults that he likes, who are interested in the world and like to talk about it, will on most days learn far more from their talk than he would learn in a week of school.
John Taylor Gatto
  • School is about learning to wait your turn, however long it takes to come, if ever. And how to submit with a show of enthusiasm to the judgment of strangers, even if they are wrong, even if your enthusiasm is phony.
 H. L. Mencken
  • The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all, it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The glass ceiling...

I'd just recently had this conversation with a mate and a recent newspaper article looking at gender equality in education has further prompted a bit of thinking...

At the esteemed University I attended I remember a lecturer commenting on how nearly 80% of the faculty lecturers were male despite the overall gender balance of the ECEC sector being embarrassingly dominated by women.

It still is. The glass ceiling is built from white middle-class hegemonic power and remains effective in preventing women from attaining the higher positions in the education field. So despite there being almost no men teaching ECEC, they still rule the roost.

Our system is designed by men and its structures and processes reinforce their dominance. The National government has canned the employment equity commission despite widespread public concern of gender inequality in the workplace…. Surprised? What's happening in the Dept of Women's Affairs? Nothing. The new-right do not like the idea of special rules or extra help for those systemically disadvantaged. They prattle on about 'equality of access and opportunity' as though we all come from the same background and bring with us the social and cultural privileges of patriarchy. The game is loaded from the start.

Many years ago ECEC students used to actively study about the absence of men in their sector. It was the lack of professional status, all those feminists, the low pay, the sense of being slightly dodgy in doing 'women's work' that suggests 'queer' which of course equals 'pervert', and after the Peter Ellis tragedy you'd essentially have to be fucking mad to want to work in ECEC...

But there are men and the numbers are growing, yet despite overcoming so many challenges it seems that most of them get reclaimed by the brotherhood...

And we can do just what about this? Refuse a promotion? Hold no desires to excel in this field? Of course not, but we (men) can work to dismantle hierarchical power structures and the notion of competition as the basis of relationships. Co-operation, collaboration, mutual-aid etc, may be derided as feminine attributes and one more reason why we need more masculine male role models in ECEC, but fuck it, there is a better way.